Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit

One day a new political party will form in Canada - let's call it the Union party - pledging to put the country to a referendum on whether to join the United States.

It's something we've been pulled toward for years, with the free trade agreement, NAFTA, harmonized border security, and more. The corporate sector has been slowly pushing us toward this. The vote is inevitable.

If I am still around, I would vote against such an integration. From my perspective, the United States has to change a lot in order to be worth joining. Among other things:

- The U.S. is very pro-private-enterprise, to the point where basic services are subject to the whims of the marketplace. I would not dream of joining a country without universal single payer health care. I would not want other major parts of our infrastructure to be run by private corporations.

- The U.S. has a history of militarism and imperialism. This stance would have to change. The country would have to have a very different stance on guns and other weapons.

- The U.S. is an unequal society. It has problems with racism and xenophobia. It has one of the widest income divides in the world. It is a land of elites and masses.

- The political structure is not reliable. Lobbyists hold far too much sway. The media is in the hands of people who prey on hate and fear for personal profit, publishing without shame falsehoods and innuendo.

I know many Americans, and individually, I love them all. They can be dear friends, loyal to a fault, resourceful and helpful. I just don't want to be part of their society. I think differently, and I live differently.

There are costs, personal costs, that I bear as a result of this. For example, even with NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement - there are hard limits on what goods and services I could offer in the U.S. which put me at a competitive disadvantage. I don't qualify for U.S. federal contracts. major funding agencies, such as the Gates Foundation, will not fund non-Americans.

My currency typically trades lower, meaning that imports cost me more. So I pay a premium on electronics and other gear. High tech employment in Canada is limited, as companies prefer the synergy and access-to-market that places like Boston and Silicon Valley provide.

But I bear these costs, willingly, because I view my own country as far more free and open. When I return home I feel like I'm breathing fresh air again - figuratively and literally. I could be Muslim if I wanted, gay if I swung that way, a pot smoking (well, next year at least) long-haired socialist, and still get a government job.

So I understand the feelings of the people who voted in favour off the Brexit.

They are Europe's Americans. The situation of the UK and Europe is in many ways the inverse of Canada and the U.S. - it is the UK that is pro-private-enterprise, the UK that colonized the world and still gets into wars, the UK that the UK that has the unequal society, the UK with the at-risk political structure.

Of course the British don't see themselves that way, which is fair enough. But they see Europe very differently than I do, or indeed many of their compatriots. The things that (I think) Europeans really value - public good, peace and order, fairness and equity, civil society - are not seen in the same light by Britons (or, at least, a majority of them).

But their vote to leave iss in this light completely understandable. Just as Americans would very much resist becoming like Canada - especially today's modern multicultural Canada - so also the British resist becoming like Europe.

I, personally, feel this was the wrong move for the UK. I think that the sway of the EU over time would have let to a better and fairer society. I think that they now face an uncertain future, one where they will probably seek to throw in their lot with the United States, becoming in essence part of a north Atlantic (mostly) English trading bloc.

I think they will also seek to reassert their leadership over the Commonwealth, but may be disappointed to find that the Commonwealth has moved on. In many ways, the Commonwealth is another Europe. Certainly there are lessons learned here about the British tolerance for people from other places.

I think that England alone will be poorer (I expect a Scottish referendum and independence now). It will never again lead a global empire, never again enjoy a privileged position in trade, never again have access to cheap and abundant resources. England will be forced to seek solace in trade - a nation of shopkeepers! - and will see itself in competition with Switzerland. But in reality, it will be western Europe's Belarus.

As for Europe, there is no turning back. Without the British distraction there will be greater opportunity - and greater imperative - for greater integration. Some badly needed reforms - such as economic equalization - can now be put into place. Turkish membership becomes a much more attractive prospect, if the Turkish government can reform.

The risk, though, is that there is a chain reaction. Support for the EU is especially low in places like Greece and even France. A referendum would be a risky proposition in any number of countries. A collapse of the European Union would create a lot of risk and uncertainty, instability in many member countries, and a real need for another framework that enables the countries of Europe to live together without fighting each other.

I wish the best for them all, I really do. 


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